Bill Gates has a very distinct handshake and it’s pretty offensive in the Far East. In a visit to South Korea on Monday, Gates was caught red-handed in the act while greeting president Park Geun-hye.
He looks harmless enough, doesn't he? But in a culture where casualness vs. formality is key, Gates committed a big cultural no-no, although South Korea's response to the action may come across as overreacting to us in the West. His preferred stance of keeping one hand in his pocket while shaking with the other is considered rude in Asia, where such body posture suggests closeness or can signal an air of superiority. Gates is said to have gone through the proper hand shake position (using both hands) with past Korean leaders. Yet there was an incident of another one-handed greeting with then President Lee Myung-bak back in 2008.
“Perhaps it was his all-American style but an open jacket with hand in pocket? That was way too casual. It was very regretful," said secretary general, Chung Jin-suk, on the matter.
The handshake was so offensive that South Korean outlets have gone as far as to crop out Gates' pocketed hand. Debates have sprung up on whether or not the action was on purpose, by mistake, or some whacky American custom.
The Atlantic Wire did a photo investigation pointing Gates' pocket habit throughout several occasions. According to various interpretations concerning the study of body language, hiding your hands in your pockets is either a sign of deceit or nervousness. Not so much as a feat of extreme rudeness.
To keep the benefit of the doubt, perhaps Gates was nervous. Or didn't realize his social faux pas in progress at the time. Slip-ups do happen, because after all, there were moments where he got it down right. One of the wealthiest and most successful in the world, Gates is said to probably has Asperger's syndrome, a condition apart of the autism spectrum disorder. People with Asperger's are known to have difficulty with social interactions and can engage in repetitive actions. It wouldn't be far-reaching to guess that Gates' famed hand pocketing might be a result of such a condition. And if that should happen to be the case, the fervor in which South Korean outlets have been criticizing him can come off as even more unwarranted than than already demonstrated.
So for the sake of all things Microsoft and good, let's give Bill a break.